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In Miami, women's voices resound all over the music industry, but they usually don't get much attention unless they're accompanied by a nice set of silicone implants. Even in the politically correct and culturally diverse local fusion scene, women often find themselves sola amid male-dominated bands.
But last spring, 16 multiethnic, multigenerational Miami muses strutted their baddest, most talented selves as a unified female force at the North Miami Beach Bandshell. The She Said collective offered a 10-song repertoire, running the gamut from Cuban son and Brazilian samba to Southern blues and gospel, culminating in a massive break-dance and drum session under the moon. What's sex appeal, if not an ability to flaunt all you've got?
"It's more than a band; it's really a showcase of all these different elements," explains She Said's founder, Michelle "Quatro" Forman, a throaty blues and R&B singer. Last year she called 26 friends for a meeting to see who might be game for creating an all-female ensemble. Hoping that at least a handful would show, Forman set up 26 chairs at music promoter Lizzie Easton's house. By the time the gathering was in full swing, there wasn't a place to sit.
"The room was suddenly filled with these beautiful, powerful women ready to assume their respective roles before even really knowing about the project," she recalls. Comprising teen through middle-age artists from places such as Brazil, Cuba, Honduras, and North America, the group couldn't be more Miami in terms of cultural representation. But the characters are diverse in other ways as well.
"In this group we have the teacher, the mother, the kid, the student, the hippie, the gypsy, the master, the scholar — all kinds of women — and everybody in that group is an intriguing individual," Forman says.
Take, for example, Cuban troubadour Isa Alfonso. She spent years searching for her own voice as a backup singer for fellow Cuban vocalist Roberto Poveda, even recording with him for a Putumayo compilation. She Said gave her the inspiration she needed to break out as a successful solo artist this spring in Little Havana.
"The stage has always tended to be more of a man's territory, and they aren't always that open to giving you a hand to step up there," says Alfonso. "I think [She Said is] a testimony to the great cultural things going on here."
The project comes with a variety of challenges, the artists note. Foremost they must figure out how to bridge musical and experiential gaps, since the members represent so many different styles of music and levels of training. One way they do this is by breaking up into smaller groups for different songs. But even those who aren't on cue during rehearsal find themselves compelled to pick up a hand drum or a tambourine, or join in the harmony scatting on the sidelines, swaying arm in arm in a playful sisterhood.
"It's rare to see that many women sharing and performing without much in the way of cat fights," says Forman.
"Here we're trying to work toward something, and that's challenging," notes Honduran vocalist Sophy EnCanto, "but there's a whole magical prettiness to it."
That magic is obvious in their repertoire. For Friday's show, only their second as She Said, the women will offer 12 songs. Some will be original compositions; some will be new renditions of pieces they've played for individual projects. Apart from the union of divergent rhythms and vocals, the group brings to the stage an orchestral feel that includes even classical elements.
Cuban-born elementary school music teacher Ariadna Barve adds a touch of elegance with her stand-up bass, sometimes played with a bow. Flavia Ferreira lends Brazilian-style finger-picked guitar to EnCanto's playful "San Bahia Sun," a samba she created last year as a singer in the experimental fusion group Elastic Bond. Cuban flutist Ligia Cabrera purrs a slow, soft Cuban son with her instrument, backed by percussionists Geneva Harrison and Nabedi Osorio. Saxophonist Julie Johnson holds down the jazz elements. While Forman brings forth her multioctave R&B croon, Angela Laino wades through the spiritual waters of gospel, and Raffa Harris sings folk rock.
But because each artist works on other projects, the women of She Said have no plans to turn the collective into a full-time gig. They meet about two months before the show to compose tunes and rehearse the stage performance.
And although the She Said members swear they aren't launching a feminist counterattack, they do revel in the pride of a fully estrogen-infused band.
"You know that old saying, 'You're good for a girl.' In this band we can look around and say, 'Wow, you're good for a musician,'" says Osorio. "I play with six different bands, but I most look forward to coming to rehearse with She Said."
The ladies respond to her comment with a unified "Awww, that's so sweeeet!"
"Shut uuupp!" Osorio shouts toughly. But then she leans over and whispers, "I do, I feel really proud to be part of them."
"In an all-guy band, you inevitably end up singing backup," adds violinist and vocalist Allison Irvine, originally of Lanzallamas Monofónica. "Every band needs a hot female singer, but here you're not just a decoration. You can be a hot female singer and play other instruments."
The chorus for that comment is a resounding medley of triumphant cheers.